BURLINGTON — More than a dozen gay rights supporters joined the national debate surrounding Chick-fil-A on Friday, holding a kiss-in at the restaurant in Burlington Mall to protest the fast-food chain’s donations to antigay groups.
About 15 men and women filed into the mall’s food court shortly before 8 p.m. and stood outside Chick-fil-A, kissing each other, taking pictures, and chanting. The Massachusetts effort, organized by Join the Impact MA and GetEQUAL MA, was part of a national kiss-in campaign on Friday galvanized around the Chick-fil-A controversy.
“I think the greater point is to send a message to the CEOs of companies and politicians that it’s not OK to send money to fight against our rights,” said Keegan O’Brien, 23, of Dorchester. O’Brien, a University of Massachusetts Boston student, led parts of the protest at the mall Friday night.
James Croft, 29, of Somerville, called the kiss-in a “customer education drive.”
“We want people to make an informed choice about where they spend their money,” said Croft, a Join the Impact MA board member.
A maelstrom has surrounded Chick-fil-A this summer as the fast-food chain’s chief operating officer, Dan T. Cathy, has been accused of supporting efforts against same-sex marriage. The food chain has become a flashpoint in the debate between supporters and opponents of gay marriage.
Last month, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston signed a letter to Cathy urging the company to reconsider its proposal to build a restaurant in the city. Menino rebuffed comments Cathy made to the Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, on July 16, when he said his company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of the family.”
Hundreds of people packed Burlington Mall’s Chick-fil-A on Wednesday for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, organized by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Patrons waited in long lines to express their support for Cathy and his chain, as well as to decry Menino’s statements.
But protesters Friday said the kiss-in was not a direct response to Cathy or the appreciation day.
“I think it’s a wider discussion that needs to be addressed, and it’s not just about Cathy’s personal views or his ability to express [them],” said Sasha Kaufmann, a lead organizer for GetEQUAL MA.
She said federal and state policies that discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities were the main targets of the protest. The money Chick-fil-A has donated to organizations that perpetuate such discriminatory practices was also of more concern than Cathy’s personal view, Kaufmann said.
Five mall security guards and a few Burlington police officers stood watch in the food court Friday night. Sergeant Timothy Kirchner of the Burlington police said the department generally has two detail officers at the mall Friday and Saturday nights, and two additional members were used because of possible demonstrations.
After they kissed, the protesters marched the length of the mall, chanting, “Hey! Ho! Homophobia has got to go!” They wore signs bearing phrases such as “Eat less hate” and handed out fake Chick-fil-A coupons offering a “free side of bigotry with every meal.”
In a statement posted to its website Friday, Chick-fil-A wrote in response to the kiss-in, “At Chick-fil-A, we appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time.”
At the Northshore Mall in Peabody, Grant Stoffel, 25, owner of a Chick-fil-A franchise there, said supporters and opponents of the chain arrived throughout the day. A Peabody police presence was maintained near the restaurant. “Everyone who came in today was respectful,” Stoffel said.
No arrests or incidents were reported in either location.